From the Clergy – July 2017

The Vicar writes…..

Dear Friends,

In my day and I’m sure in most of your days too, we weren’t allowed to receive Holy Communion until we had been confirmed. I can remember at age 12 wanting to be confirmed so that I could receive communion alongside my parents. I also remember the sense of belonging I felt because I was now considered a “full member of the Church”. I wasn’t a regular attender for much of my teenage years nor as a young adult but I still knew that I could go into any Anglican church and be entitled to receive communion.

What I didn’t realise was that I was already a full member of the church before I got confirmed.

In fact I became a full member of the church when I was baptised as a baby.

The question this raises is, if we are full members by virtue of our baptism, why do we wait to receive communion until we are confirmed? Why not receive before confirmation and let confirmation take place when a person is ready to make a mature commitment to God?

When I first considered this question I thought it all to do with understanding what communion was about. We had to wait until we knew what we were doing.  However communion is and always will be a Holy Mystery that defies understanding in a purely intellectual way.  Let’s be honest, do all adults understand what communion is about?

In the early church there was no Confirmation service. Once baptised you were accepted into the church and could receive communion. Confirmation came along because there were so many people wanting to be baptised that the Bishops couldn’t keep up with the demand. They gave the local priests the authority to baptise and at a later date the Bishop came to lay hands on the baptised heads to confirm their baptism. Over time the church began to withhold communion to such newly baptised until the bishop came to confirm them, just to encourage them to turn up! The Reformation played a part too in separating communion from baptism with its emphasis that the communicant should understand the meaning of the Eucharist.

All this has meant that over time Baptism has lost its true place as the entry point into the church and confirmation has become a “gateway” to communion.

When we take part in communion we are carrying out our Lord’s wish that we share the bread and wine each time we meet together in remembrance of his death and resurrection. We believe that in some wonderful and mysterious way Jesus himself is present in the bread and wine. The Eucharist is the central act of worship as we gather together as the family of God. Participating in communion strengthens us and unites us to the body of the church past, present and future and to Christ himself. For many of us it is our lifeline and yet we exclude the youngest members of our family from receiving the same benefits as we do.

We wouldn’t dream of excluding our children from any other family celebration. We wouldn’t refuse to give them some birthday cake if we were having a birthday party!

The PCC have been discussing this question along with other PCCs from the Team. We have heard from Karen Beal, the Diocesan Children’s Advisor.  We have considered the arguments for and against. At our last PCC meeting in May, we decided to move towards enabling the regular members of our church to receive communion before confirmation if they wish to do so and after suitable preparation. We have a lot of planning to do to enable this.  In terms of the youngsters there would be a lower age of 7 years, they will need to undertake a short course which their parents will be involved in too. At the end of the preparation there would be a special service to admit them to communion. They will be entered into a special register similar to confirmation and given a certificate.

As you read this I’m sure some of you will have questions and mixed feelings about it. Don’t be afraid to ask. I’m happy to talk more fully about it. St John’s Wingates are already admitting children to communion and you will see from the Westhoughton Parish Newsletter that they too have decided to move forward on this. Quite a few members of our church and PCC have friends and relatives at other churches where this has already been introduced and the feedback is that the whole church benefits from extending the welcome to the Lord’s Table.

We hope and pray that it will further enhance our fellowship at St Katharine’s and be a sign that we truly welcome all to share God’s love with us and that the children will gain a greater sense of belonging.

With every Blessing,